Crime and the Great Recession: An Analysis of Economic and Crime Variables from 2002 to 2010

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Department or Administrative Unit


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Many refer to the current state of the national economy as the "Great Recession." The recession began in the United States in December of 2007 and has since spread to much of the industrialized world. The financial crisis has reenergized the long-standing debate among criminal justice scholars, practitioners, and policy makers regarding the relationship, if any, between economic downturns and crime. Members of the media have joined the debate by disseminating news stories and anecdotal "evidence" depicting rising crime rates, implying a causal connection between the recession and increased crime.

Consequently, the consensus in public opinion is that criminal behavior increases during difficult economic times. The results of our six-month survey, which questioned nearly 1,000 subjects across the country, substantiated the mistaken belief that crime (mainly property crime) is on the rise. Media accounts and scholarly articles perpetuate this impression, particularly as it relates to high unemployment rates. However, our study of national and state level crime rates concluded that there is little, if any, correlation between rising crime and a struggling economy. In other words, our research indicates that crime rates do not necessarily rise as unemployment rates go up, and negative economic circumstances do not necessarily motivate criminal behavior.


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